Vanilla—It Ain’t White

What happened to vanilla? Seriously. When was it that vanilla came to be associated with a shade of the color white, and an adjective describing “bland”—and why? Who would commit such an injustice to a product of the beautiful Vanilla planifolia (a member of the orchidaceae family)? And what, you’re probably thinking, does this have to do with policy? Well, quite a bit.

The history of vanillaproduction” started in the geographic locale of the Aztec Empire (previously controlled by the Teotihuacán and then the Toltecs), in what we now know as Mexico (North America) and was cultivated by the Totonac. With the arrival of the Spanish into this region (circa 1520) and other areas in the Western Hemishpere, the Old World and New World underwent drastic changes. The movement of ideas, disease, precious metals, technologies, foodstuffs, and spices, et al., which would come to be known as the Columbian Exchange, dramatically changed the course of both hemispheres (this period also saw the annihilation/genocide of millions of indigenous peoples and several empires, by Columbus, Cortés, and other conquistadors, and their men). And the “exchange” of vanilla, to the Old World, was the first step in vanilla’s story of becoming a colour no longer tied to the plant’s origins. 

Fast forward 200 years and we might find the next clue in the color mix-up. Ice cream was gaining in popularity in 18th century Europe (according to historians), and when a fearless culinary madame/monsieur mixed vanilla into a batch of ice cream, I believe the “white” fallacy was born. As the base of ice cream is, yep, you guessed it, cream, the thick and fatty substance that is strangely similar in color to today’s perceived shade of vanilla, it would make sense that over time people eating vanilla ice cream would wrongly assume that vanilla was white. But this doesn’t help explain the other part—bland, plain, blah, meh.

Over the next couple of centuries, ice cream became America’s favorite dessert (even in ice cream deserts). And naturally, the colors that were most commonly associated with the frozen treat: white (vanilla), brown (chocolate), and pink (strawberry), also came to have additional significance.  Here’s where we may find part of the background on vanilla’s “plain Jane” problem. Whether it was due to the seemingly more decadent taste of chocolate (and all that went along with the desire to have something “other/different”), or the memories of a dish of freshly churned ice cream with just picked wild strawberries mixed in, after a Fourth-of-July celebration, the widespread availability of “regular” vanilla didn’t seem to evoke the same type of emotion. Which leads me to believe that the passage of time, combined with the desire to believe what is placed in front of one’s face, has led to the misconception of vanilla’s True Colors. As a society, we believe vanilla is both white, and boring, neither of which bear any resemblance to the true character of this most flavorful and versatile spice.

So now that we’ve determined who and what is responsible for this catastrophe of maligned color designation, lets talk about other instances where time and indifference have contributed to beliefs that are neither true nor sensical (which is akin to sensible). And then, I’ll discuss the importance of truth in labeling and the deleterious effects of buying products that are not what we think they are (this is where policy comes into play).

We currently accept a great deal of what is presented as fact, so long as the presenter is acceptable to our ears and eyes. The effects of such marketing/propaganda have helped shape current debates, policies, historical inaccuracies and general attitudes. Ask 10 people why the U.S. Civil War was fought and you’re likely to get one of three answers:  Three might say slavery, two might look at you like your speaking Shyriiwook, and the other five would likely say States Rights. Both answers are correct, in a way. However, many people still believe that the war was primarily about States Rights. And while we can say it was related to that idea, we must explain that the one right that was by far the most important (to the men who controlled the States), was the right to own human beings (slavery). Some “smarty pants” might spout off a list of rights that includes: taxation, tariffs, trade, freedom from federal powers, blah blah blah (they sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher). Yet, they leave out the fact that the Bill of Rights, specifically, the 10th Amendment, covered many of the State’s concerns. And, when one looks more closely at each of the “concerns”, they all have direct links to slavery, i.e. the South’s primary economic driver. So while this long held belief (State’s rights), as a stand alone argument, is essentially wrong, incorrect, untrue, a lie, we are still talking about it as if there’s some doubt as to the veracity of the real reason for our Civil War, the enslavement of human beings.

A short list of other time-tested fallacious fabrications, fictions, falsifications, fibs, and falsehoods includes: ♠ Jesus was “White”—kind of like vanilla, Jesus was a darker shade than the one he is often purported to resemble; ♣ the term “race” as used to describe different ethnicities—just plain wrong; ♥ we don’t lose 50% of our body heat through our noggin (this is not an excuse to go without a hat when it’s -20°); ♦ trickle-down economics will lift all boats—think about it, if you could make 10 million dollars a year by working more hours or fewer, which would you choose? Well, wealthy business people think the same, if they can work less, hire fewer people, invest less capital in new ventures and still make the same amount of money, why bother with all the extra nonsense. They have vacation homes to visit (not just 1 little cabin in the Northwoods), yachts to party on, polo matches to watch, and politicians to influence…they’re busy folks. So lets get on with the process of making income/wealth inequality grow; ♠ and while we’re on the topic of finance, “money can’t buy happiness”—I’d be happy to make a wager with anybody who’s looking to lose some money. Sure, after a certain amount of wealth is earned, we wouldn’t expect to gain as much “utility” from an extra million or two; but for anyone who lives paycheck to paycheck, or is unemployed and relying on the social insurance programs administered by government agencies, money can and does buy happiness. ♣ and a couple more recent illustrations of this phenomenon: ♥ you have to be smart to be successful—George W. Bush (I’m not hating, just pointing out the obvious); ♦ and, guns are just tools, like shovels, rakes, garden hoes, etc.—guns were designed with one purpose in mind, and it wasn’t skeet shooting. Guns were the next big thing in the evolution of individually controlled killing implements. While many people use them for shooting clay pigeons, beer bottles, pumpkins, and the dust off of a fly’s wing, they are still designed to end a life, be it human or animal. That, I would argue, is a far cry from what most “tools” are designed to accomplish.

Now then, let’s look at the problems associated with products that are labeled as (ex.) ƒ(x) = 36x + 5, but what you actually end up with is pistachio pudding. What happened? How did that function of (x), that I bought with my hard-earned money, turn out to be pistachio pudding? Well, maybe the celebrity endorser pitching the product wasn’t being completely honest with you. Or maybe you wanted to believe that you could get a real Rolex for $150. because that guy on the corner with the table of nice watches really needed the money and that’s the only reason he was selling it so cheap. Sometimes, nobody is any worse for the deal. The knockoff Prada handbag made the buyer happy to have a replica that looked legit, and the salesperson made some money. The problems occur when you are unknowingly endangering yourself or others.

Do you remember the toxic drywall that was imported from China and caused (and is still causing) plumbing, electrical, and health problems across the South? How about the formaldehyde trailers that were delivered to displaced Gulf Coast residents after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, in 2005 (because that’s just what every dislocated person wants after a catastrophic event, more health problems)? Ever asked for a Coke at a restaurant and gotten a Pepsi, or is it Royal Crown, no, wait…it’s “cola”, something sharing a few of Coke’s qualities, carbonated water, caramel color, caffeine, but definitely not the same as Coke. Big or small, these things matter. When we’re told we are buying, or being provided with, one product, and later find that we’ve gotten something that is close to what we assumed we were getting, but not quite the same (and in some cases extremely different), we have reason for concern if not downright outrage. Sure, the generic cola won’t kill us (we hope), but if you’ve been looking forward to lunch (at the place your project manager recommended), thinking about that patty melt with bacon, perfectly deep fried tater-tots, and the crisp refreshing bite that hits the back of the palette after taking a big swig of real Coke, and instead you get a lackluster mouthful of overly saccharine cola, your lunch break letdown won’t ruin the rest of your day (your coworker did that by accidentally squeezing the jelly out of his donut and onto your shirt sleeve), but you might return to the office feeling a bit more deflated than when you left, and now you have to go into a post-lunch meeting with the same project manager, the one who tells you to smile more, with one less reason to smile and one more reason to leave anonymous hateful little notes on his desk.

Again, a short list of items that you may want to double check prior to purchasing (or maybe you like to live dangerously): ♠ fish—the mislabeling of seafood is bad for three reasons: you might be paying too much for an inferior product that doesn’t taste as good, the people working on the fishing boats are enslaved, and you could be unwittingly eating a fish that is currently over-fished/not sustainable; ♣ sunglasses—if you’re not concerned about your eyes long-term viability, don’t worry about this; conversely, if you hope to keep your sight top notch into your golden years (so you can watch the paint dry), make sure you’re getting the real deal; ♥ fragrances/cosmetics—some of the chemicals etc. that are being used in the fakes are toxic and/or gross; ♦ pharmaceuticals—no commentary necessary here, but, think about the cost and the potential consequences of getting a drug that is potentially the same but due to lack of oversight the dosage might be high, or low, and make you more sick, or simply fail to cure what ails you; ♠ flea & tick products—many are good, some are not, and your pets are not the only family members that can be affected.

Mislabeling of products, and inaccurate classifications run the gamut from “no big deal” to “holy shit, that coulda killed me”; these are issues I think about when I hear people relating boring and white (like this guy appears) to vanilla. Vanilla is anything but boring and most certainly not even close to any shade of white. And while the vanilla farmers of Mexico, Madagascar, Comoros, et al. may not care what you believe about vanilla, so long as you’re buying it, I think of the vanilla lie as a type of “gateway drug” to believing, and even promoting, other untrue and possibly slanderous/historically inaccurate theories. Fertilizers, pesticides, nutritional supplements, comestibles, and other products are regularly found to be noncompliant with generally accepted consumer product safety measures/standards.

To be clear, I know that vanilla ice cream, frosting (butter cream or others), protein powders, yogurt, etc., etc., are shades of white (and sometimes very bland) due to other ingredients. However, these products, and others, have coloured our perceptions about actual vanilla characteristics. When we make assumptions about something based on false pretenses, we fail to consider the background as well as the implications and ramifications for future generations. Policies that fail to address flawed or distorted belief systems (thank you South CaroliniansGov. Haley) and overlook misleading (intentional or otherwise) product statements can have serious negative consequences, both known and unknown.

Anytime someone is trying to sell you something, or sell anyone else something, take a piece of advice from Suzanne Massie, “Trust but verify”.

Vanilla Bean/Pod, not white, more deep, dark, rich, brownish black
Vanilla Bean/Pod, not white, more deep, dark, rich, brownish black

Owl City – Vanilla Twilight

If you’d like to see the difference real vanilla can make in a simple way, buy a vanilla Coke (if you can find it) and make a vanilla Coke using Mexican Coke. The flavor differential is significant.

2016 Presidential Primary Season: Do The Polls Have It Right?

Here we are, just days from the first caucus/primary for the 2016 Presidential election. The candidates have provided us with an overwhelming amount of politicking (some of it pretty good), mountainous volumes of material requiring fact-checking, and a fair amount of thespian-like antics. Since last July, we have seen the field shrink, if only slightly; but after Iowa and New Hampshire, it is likely we will find out who the real contenders are in the G.O.P. and just how close the Democratic race will be. Current polls show Donald Trump and Ted Cruz leading in the Republican race, and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both looking strong. However, it is probable that March 1st (a.k.a. Super Tuesday) will bring us a very different looking contest on the Right side of the aisle. By the time the candidates leave South Carolina and Nevada, the field should be whittled to two or three serious contenders per party (plus the possible wild card, Michael Bloomberg).  And then, the real melee begins; Small Victories can turn the tide and carry the day.

The contenders have had 6-12 months (or more…Hillary) to make us aware of their stances on various policies as well as beliefs and occasionally solutions concerning: social issues, the economy and related matters (unemployment/underemployment rates, wages and wage disparity (household incomes, taxes), GDP, TPT,  the housing market, the stock market & Wall Street reforms, and the importance of small business in America), global warming, health care/ACA/Obama-Care, criminal/social justice, religious beliefs, the V.A., and even a little about the environment and education.

They have also told us, more or less, about their thoughts on DOD spending, the DEA, DHS, DOJ, DOT, EOs, EPA, FRB & FRS, INS, JCAT, NNSA, ORR, OWH, SEC, SSA, USCCR, WHO, and the WTO. Which is to say, we’ve learned a lot about who they are (or who they say they are for the sake of votes). But they’ve also told us a lot about what matters to them based on what they haven’t talked about.

We didn’t hear much, if any, discussion surrounding: cyber-securityECA, ECIE, EOWS, FEC, HUD, MBDA, OSERS, VTO, OCTAE, ONAAPHA, PLLI, RBS & RECD, SDWIS, USIP, VAWO, WIC, youth employment/training programs, or WNET. So it’s probably safe to assume that policy ideas concerning: replacing old voting machines; marijuana legalization; affordable housing and urban development; employment & training programs for youth & adults; and rural economic development; will not be front and center on any candidates updated websites next week.

Policy matters aside, the Democratic nomination is shaping up to be much more of a contest than most pundits thought twelve short months ago. Secretary Clinton still has an edge, nationally, but Senator Sanders has shown how his youth movement can have a substantial impact, already doing yeomen’s work in Iowa and New Hampshire. Governor O’Malley is simply raising his profile in hopes of having a better outcome in 2020 or 2024, depending on what happens this November. The Republicans, conversely, look like they will be engaged in a much greater competition and may end up getting into some of the back-room deals that were more common in the politics of yesteryear.

But look at what the polls tell us…

I don’t put a lot of weight in the polls that have Donald Trump and Ted Cruz with big leads (which would be the vast majority). This is not to question the veracity of their methods but to highlight the realities of modern polling. Here’s the scoop. Polls have the uncanny ability of being able to tell pollsters whatever they want to hear (not saying this is the intent of the aforementioned survey firms). Good polling outfits design a survey using tightly structured methods, within set parameters, and scrutinize every angle prior to the final product being rolled out. That said, even when the best in the business believe they’re doing everything right, sometimes it all goes to pot. The potential snafus are illustrated in many instances and there are various reasons for results coming out the way they do (Dewey defeats Truman; Landon-vs.-Roosevelt; Bevin (R)-vs-Conway (D)). Additionally, people forget that these polls reflect the beliefs of those who are still answering their phones when an unknown # (or a “known” #) comes up. It’s unlikely that a broad swath of our nation is taking part in such antiquated methods (which is to say a lot of phone calls are being placed in order to reach the magic number of responses); rather, it may be that the most extreme constituents, on both sides, Left & Right, are completing many of the phone questionnaires. Moreover, how many of the folks who support Trump on the phone are going to bother showing up on primary day? He might have a lot of backing from the “all talk – no action” crowd; who knows?

Many political polls are done well and are valuable because the time was taken to ensure accurate results. Additionally, when multiple polls are considered in a forecast, along with in-depth analysis and common sense, the odds are definitely in one’s favor. But, it’s still difficult to imagine Donald Trump & Senator Cruz being the big winners in the 1st (3) states (or the remainder of the primaries for that matter). Why? you ask. Because; Trump is still not running a serious campaign (more like buffoonery on planet clown) and Cruz is about to learn just how serious the Republican gate-keepers are. When the old guard talks about finding a candidate who can draw interest from hard-line Conservatives, along with the more socially moderate Republicans and Independents who lean Right, they’re not endorsing a firebrand like Cruz.

As for the remainder of the Republican field, Governor Christie and Governor Bush still have an outside shot but their odds are just a bit better than the chance our national flag will get a 51st star (for the State of Superioranytime soon—not great. Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson did well to garner the support they did, neither being particularly astute politicians. Rand Paul and Jim Gilmore (wait, who?) will always have their supporters, regardless of how small their fraternities may be. And Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee should have followed their friend, Scott Walker, in a stage-left-exit, prior to the holiday gatherings; it would have saved them the embarrassment of having family members ask, “How is Donald Trump beating you?” while sipping BouRye and wearing a sarcastic grin.

But What Do I Know?

So, which candidates will come out of wintertide’s donnybrook with a crown & cape and a road map to the nominating conventions, in Cleveland and Philadelphia. Well, on the Republican side, Marco Rubio and John Kasich wouldn’t be bad bets. They’re both fairly level-headed and don’t offend a majority of the party elite. And for the Dems—as hard as it is to imagine, the presumptive nominee, Clinton, could be a two-time runner-up; it wouldn’t surprise me. Nor would I be surprised if she suddenly surged on Super Tuesday. The nation’s voters (to include the so-called Independents) have seen a number of changes in their demographics in the past 10 years and we could be in for a surprise, or three.

Amongst Republicans, Rubio has a slight edge as he is better known amongst likely voters. And between his youth, his heritage, his home state (Florida), and his measured responses to most questions, it is realistic to think the majority of the party royalty will support his nomination. The opposing side (Dems) may not shake out a candidate until June, after California and New Jersey announce the winners in their primaries. It looks as though we might be in for a spirited six-month skirmish, on both banks of the the District’s aisle. Whatever ends up happening, it’s good to know that come the morn of  9 November, we should know what it all means.

 

 

 

Non-Standard Ideas for America’s Public Schools

Kindergartenhistorysaurus: finger-painted collage, newspaper stuffed, dinosaur created by Kindergarteners at Soutwest Baltimore Charter School (2009)
Kindergartenhistorysaurus: finger-painted collage, newspaper stuffed, dinosaur, created by Kindergarteners at Southwest Baltimore Charter School – (2009)

The value of any education cannot be found in a test score. Education’s value is fully realized only after what is learned becomes useful to the learner.

With President Obama’s recent statement concerning the overabundance of standardized tests (ST) in public schools, it appears as though common sense will finally be injected into the highest levels of the public education conversation. This is not to say we will see the end of standardized testing anytime soon; but, we can at least begin thinking about the day when these tests, and the standards they attempt to measure, will not be the focus of every politician’s education policy. If we’ve learned anything from this federally mandated experiment over the past decade and a half, it is this; standardized tests are really good at predicting one thing, socio-economic status.

It seems as though standards and the tests that measure achievement (and all that goes along with the entire debacle), have been at the forefront of education policy forever, yet it was implemented at the Federal level just thirteen years ago. The idea of Test – Measure – Sanction/Reward, was not immediately questioned by many members in the profession; but by the end of President Bush’s (43) first term, a majority of educators saw the bigger picture—and the effects on students: heightened anxiety; increased apathy ; and new pressures for many students who are already enduring elevated stress levels in their everyday life. The calls for reform grew larger and more vocal and finally we have turned a corner.

Since the inception of No Child Left Behind (NCLB (2002))(the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965)), our way of educating children has changed dramatically, and not so much for the better. With each passing year, increased pressure has been placed upon educators and administrators to improve test scores so as to avoid the sanctions that may come from not meeting adequate yearly progress (AYP). On the surface, this might seem like a logical way to ensure the youth of our country are getting the best education possible. In reality, it means corners will be/have been cut, laws will be/have been broken, and many in the system will/have suffer(ed). Additionally, curiosity, creativity, and the joy of learning have taken a back seat to raising test scores.

My biggest concern with all the focus on standardized testing (aside from the stigma that adheres to schools and students who regularly don’t achieve the rank of “proficient”), is the presumption that because we are providing standardized tests to capture the progress of said schools/students, then those students must be engaging in standardized learning. This is simply not the case.

Whether students are learning differently due to their own genetic variations in learning styles (nature) or because of the environment in which they are raised (nurture), or more likely a combination of the two, it is ridiculous to assume that the basic learning experience (for nearly 50 million students nationwide) will be standard. Moreover, the environments in which these children grow up and the learning communities that are charged with educating them are vastly different in social, economic, and physical makeup. This is true across all sectors, be it nationwide, state-wide and even district-wide.

By assuming to know what a student should be able to learn, we are providing a kind of default setting for achievement. This means the aspiring cyber security analyst may not receive work that is challenging her mental acumen in the appropriate areas and the future aircraft mechanic is taking courses in algebra II or chemistry when they would be better served learning about the mechanical workings of Boeing’s 777X flight controls. And for the student who has no idea what direction he is heading, then a curriculum that provides a well-rounded and integrated course of instruction (core subjects as well as arts, languages, and skills based classes) would be most appropriate. We must remember that as quickly as technology advances, so too will new jobs be created. Attempting to teach kids by the old method of rote memorization is fine for multiplication tables; but the jobs of the future will require far more in the way of creative thought processes. Standardized tests cannot hope to capture the complexity of the creative thinking of a 15 year-old student.

To be clear, I am not arguing against standards, just the idea that a 1-size-fits-all standard is not serving the majority of our students. Moreover, education is NOT a business, students are NOT inputs, and student success CANNOT be determined with standard output, e.g. test scores.

Standards and standardization have their place in education and elsewhere. I contemplate how crazy life would be if we didn’t have the advantages of standardization everywhere we look. The standard Polo shirt, standard pick-up truck, standard bank system, standard political candidates, standard grilled cheese, & even standard metronomes for our standard musicians to incorporate into the Standards. But really, do we believe that a standard serves to provide the best take on any given product or entity?

Providing standards (defined as “a level of quality, achievement, etc., that is considered acceptable or desirable” Merriam-Webster) is a way to communicate the lowest acceptable benchmark. But we know that having one benchmark doesn’t provide society with adequate options for anything: trucks, sandwiches, politicians, et al., so why should we believe that one standard for all students is an appropriate way to conduct learning? Having multiple standards for students that are interested in vastly different fields makes perfect sense. Engineers, nurses, and chefs have very few professional requirements that overlap. Hence the reason that education standards need to be updated to more accurately reflect the world into which our young adults enter; furthermore, the tests that attempt to measure progress need a total reconfiguration so as to provide meaningful assessment and feedback in realtime.

Yes, I took the ASVAB, a few Wisconsin mandated tests, and probably a couple more tests that millions of other students took; but I don’t recall a teacher ever telling me how important it was that I do well, doing my best was all that was asked. Nor do I recall ever spending an extra minute, let alone an extra hour, every day, to prep for the tests. I imagine my parents would have taken umbrage with such a waste of time in our educational day.

2 standard Jack-O-Lanterns
2 non-standard Jack-O-Lanterns

The current testing situation reminds me of a conversation that I’ve never heard, but could imagine taking place in the not-too-distant future, between two public school students (A.B. & C.D., seniors in high school we’ll say), at a standard pharmacy, in a standard suburb, concerning their standard day. And,  never having known anything but this madness of standardized testing, it might sound something like this.

A.B: Hey Man, what’s up?

C.D: Nothing Man, pretty standard day.

A.B: Tell me about it… (which didn’t really mean, “Tell me about it”, but having been conditioned to follow instructions exactly as they are read/heard, C.D. begins to tell A.B. about his standard day)

C.D: OK, so, I woke up at 7:05 and headed to the bathroom, it’s standard, 8’x5′, all the standard accessories, you know; took care of business and then got dressed in the standard threads my mom laid out for me, last night. I had a standard breakfast, 1 chocolatey chip eggo, 1 s’mores pop-tart, and a glass of juice that’s not really juice but it tastes like orange flavor, so whatever; then E.F. picked me up in his standard Toyota Camry, you know, the 2005 model that comes standard with cup holders, bucket seats, rear defrost, c.d. player, turn signals, which he only uses when Five-0 is behind him cuz a gear-head told him he could run out of blinker fluid if he used them too much…

A.B: Smart

C.D: …and it’s a manual, you know, standard transmission, it took E.F. like 10 months to learn how to drive that thing. Anyway, he had the standard jams on the stereo, “old skool” Beyonce´T-SwizzleThe Biebs, and one song that was totally not standard, he said it was in some drama thing his sister is doing, it kept talking about minutes and coffee and stuff, I didn’t get it. We talked about standard stuff: clothes, music, gym class, the girl who wears the standard jeans & v-neck sweater & always has her hair pulled back in a ponytail, which is so not standard, but it should be, I think, or not, I don’t know, and then we got to school, at our standard time, and met-up with G.H., I.J., & K.L, and talked about our standard night, you know, last night; we talked about sport-o practice, and non-sport-o practice, and our standard microwave dinner that tastes like—food, I guess, and about texting our bro’s & some chicks & I.J. said he was texting with the nerdy girl, the one that’s cute but totally not standard, wears Shell Toes, cat-eye glasses, I think she might have a tattoo on her ankle but it could just be a bug that’s always in the same spot, I don’t know, and our standard homework, math, english, science…I think I worked on something non-standard too, maybe it was something from social studies, yeah, Fred, No, Doug Fredrickson, or Douglas Freederman, I don’t know, something about the 4th of July…It’s Novemeber Dude, not July, JESUS! So non-standard, what’s that Dude thinking?

A.B: Um, yeah, ok Man, I didn’t really need to know step-by-step.

C.D: Oh, OK, so what about that party on Friday, after the football game, which we probably won’t win, you know, based on past performances, we’re so below proficient in football skills, it’s like the coaches aren’t spending enough time going over the standard plays.

A.B: Yeah, true.

C.D: Oh did I tell you about math class today?

A.B: Ummmm, no.

C.D: It was sweet, we went over the material for our next standardized test, all the information we’ll need to know so that we can score proficient. Those tests are So Boss! They hold us to such high standards and make sure we’re prepped for the ACT, SAT, H.S.E.E.s, & all that college-type stuff that we’re gonna be doing next year—in college. I can’t wait for college, all the standard courses, reading the standard texts, not having to think too much, you know, just keepin’ it real, preppin’ myself for that standard job I’ll get, out there in the big standardized world; Man, I love thinking about stuff like this, it’s so standard, not confusing, like art; what the hell was Ms. O.P. talkin’ about today, anyway. Something about Pick-asso and Africa, and the way that some artist dudes appropriated ideas but didn’t tell anybody and… I didn’t get it. Glad I won’t have to take any art classes in college.

A.B: Yeah Man, agreed; standards are totally awesome, why didn’t they have them when our parents were kids? They had it rough; my mom was tellin’ me about how they had to learn all kinds of different stuff, depending on what the teacher thought they should learn, how lame. How did they even get jobs?

C.D: I don’t know man, seems like they did what they wanted and didn’t worry about standards, weird. Oh, hey man, it’s Q.R.

Autumn colors
Autumn colors that exceed excellence, way above proficient

 

Of course we had standards before NCLB (both written and unwritten); but we, as students, didn’t know much, if anything, about them. We knew that we were supposed to be learning but we weren’t made to feel as though the future of the school depended on our ability to pass a test (because it didn’t). Our jobs were to learn the subject matter that was presented and if the class we were in had a quiz or a test, we did our best on it. In this way, we spent all of our time (or at least a good portion of it) learning about a wide variety of subjects.

At the end of the day, the one question that we need to answer is this: How does each individual student define success? This question should drive any new education policy. And don’t think this equates to a free-for-all in our schools. Students learn best when they are engaged/interested in the material that is being presented. Most students aren’t interested in math. And why would they be? It is rarely presented in a manner that equates to anything considered cool. Many kids associate math with being a math teacher, or a scientist, neither of which are appealing to the typical adolescent. But if we integrate math into a curriculum that relates to students’ areas of interest: music/arts, sports, health & wellness, design of all types, media (traditional print, t.v., radio, online) transportation, food and other service  industries, it is more likely that students will become proactive in the learning process. AND, we can focus more time on those areas that will truly be relevant to their future.

Side-bar: This idea definitely requires smaller class sizes, more teachers, more community volunteers, and more money. Those are all details that can be worked out.

The model of student/self directed learning (SDL) (or, my own variation, Individual Project Based Learning, (IPBL) which would be undertaken in the final two years of high school and be preceded by small team PBL (8th-10th) and whole group/small group PBL (K-7th)), is not spreading like wild-fire—yet. SDL is however, being explored and it has advocates around the country. These models have the potential to completely reshape the learning environment. Additionally, they will allow the students to dictate what success looks like to them (which means they are more likely to be invested in the daily grind of achieving that success). Furthermore, this type of pedagogy has the potential to integrate the larger community into the school community. Business owners, employees, and retirees from myriad sectors could act as champions for, and mentors to, the students. In these ways (smaller class sizes and community interaction with the schools/students) relationships can be built and enriched and the social fabric of the community will have an opportunity to expand while strengthening the ties that bind.

Collecting test scores and compiling the data for analysis in any number of multivariate regressions does not help the student determine what success looks like for her. By imposing a definition that does not align with the student’s vision for the future, we are telling them that THEY, the student’s, are not the most important piece of the education equation. They are simply here to provide data for the adults to analyze. Then, post analysis, some new plan will be hatched, money will be spent on the materials and the training, and “we” will try yet again to increase the number of proficient students and close the “all-important” achievement gap.

That policy has been tried too many times, It Is Tired, and everyone is tired of it (except the corporations that are reaping the financial rewards). We need to think in new ways; the way that George Pullman did when thinking about how to save Chicago or the way Mary Wollstonecraft thought about Women’s Rights, we need an entirely new blueprint that can fit within the basic parameters of public ed. The educational system needs to do a better job of thinking about why It exists; it is not to employ adults who are wanting to work in education circles (amazing as they are & necessary though they may be), nor does it exist as a location in which we warehouse youngsters until they are old enough to go out and earn a living; but rather, our education policies must be student-centric.

Students, as we know, will be in charge of moving our nation and economy forward in the coming decades. Let’s prepare them to be successful in the ways that they see their future selves achieving success; because the number of jobs that require filling in bubbles on a scantron are about the same number that hire people to soak up U.V. rays. Moreover, by equipping them with the skills, cognitive, and all the rest, that will serve them best, we will be doing our part to promote the common good and guide our nation into the 22nd century.

 

Platteville Limestone along the Mississippi
Platteville Limestone along the Mississippi, non-standard color combination in natural setting

 

 

Fishbone! That’s Right; Fishbone!

Fishbone is likely the greatest musical group to never win a major music award (Grammy or AMA) and better than many of the groups that have won. Their musical stylings do not fit neatly into any single category and therefore their musical genius is often overlooked by the mainstream. This is unfortunate as Fishbone’s sound (a unique blend of punk, funk, ska, soul—serious amounts of soul, like Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke kind of soul, rock (more of the metal type), reggae, and the use of a theremin (click the link to “play” a theremin, it’s pretty sweet)), provides music aficionados with a listening experience that elicits reactions ranging from awe and disbelief to complete stupification. Upon hearing Fishbone for the first time, people realize that their life just got infinitely better because they have experienced the sound (for lack of a better term, it’s eargasmic).

From 18 October 2001 show at Top Cats - Cincinnati, Ohio
From 18 October 2001 show at Top Cats – Cincinnati, Ohio

The group is from various neighborhoods in the greater Los Angeles area and came of age in the late ’70s, when punk and ska were taking over parts of the L.A. music scene. They were influenced by George Clinton and the P-Funk and numerous other groups, many that were stretching the bounds of musicality. As the cacophony of musical genres grew into a style they could call their own, Fishbone began to have significant influence on the likes of Perry Farrell, Ice TThe Red Hot Chili Peppers, Primus, Sublime, and No Doubt, to name just a few. Though the group never achieved the commercial success of the aforementioned artists, without  this crew of ridiculously talented Gentlemen, our musical options would be much more standard, or worse, or way worse.

Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson, along with members of the band (past and present) created a documentary about the Fishbone story. Everyday Sunshine (2010) provides a glimpse into the lives of Norwood, Angelo, Fish, Kendall, Chris & “Dirty” Walt, the original Family, and a few of the new members. The film was nominated three times for best documentary (Los Angeles Film Festival (2010), Guam International Film Festival (2011), & Washington D.C. Independent Film Festival (2011) where it claimed the Grand Jury Award. So while they haven’t yet gotten the kind of recognition they deserve (I’m talking to you, voting members of the Academy) from the Kingmakers of the music Industry, they have earned some well deserved props for the documentary.

History only allows for analysis, observation, and study, and therefore we can’t change the trajectory of events that have long since passed. That said, people in positions of power could initiate a new category at the AMA & Grammy Awards nights—The Fishbone Award. The guidelines for inclusion (garnering a nomination) would require that only bands who do not conform to one musical style/genre and generally defy singular labels that attempt to keep them in the box would be eligible. It’s a thought; maybe one of the Grammy voters who is reading this will give it serious consideration, maybe not. Either way, providing new artists (who don’t conform to the “rules” of the industry) with recognition that their unique sound need not be changed in order to be appreciated on a grander stage could spawn a whole new generation of sound that will help change our world for the better.

 

Sunless Saturday Live from Bordeaux

Servitude

Everyday Sunshine

Party at Ground Zero

Ma & Pa

Swim

Modern Industry

 

 

The Way It Is: Recalling the Verse of Tupac Shakur

In 2015 the United States has witnessed a resurgence of the Civil Rights Movement (#CRM). 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (#CRA’64) and Voting Rights Act of 1965 (#VRA’65), African Americans are still facing discrimination in the workplace, schools, financial institutions, housingcivic engagement, and via policing efforts within their community. While much of the anti-minority behaviors are now covert and institutionalized, the overt epithets persist. Furthermore, the support of political candidates who are opposed to affirmative action and equitable opportunities is wide-spread; and supporters of these figures wear their disdain for People of Color like a a badge of courage—a badge in the form of a Rebel Flag or Ann Coulter bumper sticker. More than 20 years after his death, Tupac, and the words he wrote, are more relevant than ever. Tupac must be recognized for what he was, a truth-teller.

While no-one should argue the fact that progress in relations have been made, we should not fall into the trap of believing that the election (twice) of an African American President and numerous Black Mayors, Police Chiefs, and political figures at all levels of government, portends equal treatment of Black & White. Nor can we pretend that all of the policies instituted to combat the issues created by centuries of segregation and faulty beliefs have worked exactly as planned. Rather, it is reasonable to believe that relations have deteriorated from the “high point” of the late 1970s/early 1980s. And while 1975-’85 was not all-together a portrait of peace, love, and unity, comparatively, the country had made substantial progress from just a decade prior.

I see no changes. All I see is racist faces.
Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races we under.
I wonder what it takes to make this one better place…
let’s erase the wasted.
Take the evil out the people, they’ll be acting right.
‘Cause both black and white are smokin’ crack tonight.
And only time we chill is when we kill each other.
It takes skill to be real, time to heal each other.
And although it seems heaven sent,
we ain’t ready to see a black President,
It ain’t a secret don’t conceal the fact…
the penitentiary’s packed, and it’s filled with blacks.

The reasons for this phenomenon, the revitalization of The Movement, are likely many and varied, but at or near the top of the list must be the reawakening of people everywhere—for all of the obvious reasons: police brutality, discrimination in lending, housing, and educational opportunities, wage disparities & the widening of the income/wealth gap, and an enormous imbalance in economic opportunity based almost entirely on one’s home address. There is a growing realization that without pulling back the shades and exposing the truth of our country’s deep-seated difficulties in talking about this mythical creation of “race”, and everything that word entails, we will not be able to move forward and progress in a manner that provides Equitable Opportunities, Access, and JusticeFor All.

Tupac Shakur, one of our nation’s most celebrated and important musicians (and by all accounts, controversial),wrote a lot of music that challenged society’s wide-held belief’s about impoverished inner-city neighborhoods. In his song #Changes (originally recorded in 1992 with a remix released in 1998), Tupac dove into a number of these matters, providing the impetus for some young scholars, many of whom were not from neighborhoods resembling Nickerson Garden (Watts-L.A.), Hunts Point (The Bronx-NYC), or the Henry Horner Homes (Near West Side-Chicago), to dig deeper into what was really going on in The Other America. By exposing the lived experiences of these communities, to outsiders, Tupac, and other musicians, helped educate large numbers of Generation X (and some Baby Boomers and now Millennials), about the blurring of lines. The realization that life was not black and white—but rather a million shades of grey; and the differences between what was portrayed on the nightly news, on the printed page, and in the perceptions held by many Americans, versus, what was actually going on, spurred new research and outreach programs from coast-to-coast.

And still I see no changes. Can’t a brother get a little peace?
There’s war on the streets and the war in the Middle East.
Instead of war on poverty,
they got a war on drugs so the police can bother me.
And I ain’t never did a crime I ain’t have to do.
But now I’m back with the facts givin’ ’em back to you.
Don’t let ’em jack you up, back you up, crack you up and pimp smack you up.

For all of the time and energy that have gone into the research and programs that aspire to alleviate the difficulties found in America’s urban cores: high rates of homelessness and mobility, the decreased tax bases as corporations and wealthier White families fled for the suburbs, the lack of decent jobs, the influx of drugs and all that accompanies that scene, and the continued lack of investment in the future e.g. schools, youth programming, internships and apprenticeships, the struggles continue.

But some things will never change.
Try to show another way, but they stayin’ in the dope game.
Now tell me what’s a mother to do?
Bein’ real don’t appeal to the brother in you.
You gotta operate the easy way.
“I made a G today” But you made it in a sleazy way.
Sellin’ crack to the kids. “I gotta get paid,”
Well hey, well that’s the way it is.

Another common refrain in Tupac’s music concerns police brutality and the long history as it plays out in the African American community. It didn’t start with Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. Nor was it new in the instances of Rodney King, Michael Stewart, or Johnny Robinson. Murder, lynching, beating, and harassment of African Americans (and Africans, prior to the 1807 act banning the Slave Trade) began long before the U.S. of A. was a nation, and, it predates, if only briefly, the early police forces.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett attempted to put an end to the practice of mob justice via lynching (often known about by local law enforcement if not fully supported and aided by it) by making a public account, The Red Record, for the country’s populace to read. Wells-Barnett’s work should be credited with bringing about  Changes in the way our justice system handled alleged allegations, but we have not yet eradicated improper use of force from policing or neighborhood associations.

I see no changes. Wake up in the morning and I ask myself,
“Is life worth living? Should I blast myself?”
I’m tired of bein’ poor and even worse I’m black.
My stomach hurts, so I’m lookin’ for a purse to snatch.
Cops give a damn about a negro? Pull the trigger, kill a nigga, he’s a hero.
Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares? One less hungry mouth on the welfare.

Our society has made progress, but how much depends a great deal on the view from your front stoop…and which “America” you live in. The biggest issues cannot be fixed with a policy, they require people to stop and think about the way they are treating other human beings, and then decide they want to Change. That said, there are policies, specifically fiscal, that could go a long way to leveling the playing field. Investing more, A LOT MORE, in public schools would be a good start. Providing inner-city schools with the funding to secure wrap-around services, similar to those that are currently being used by many of our Nation’s Promise Neighborhoods, would be a good first step.

Organizations such as the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) in Minneapolis, Partners for Education: Berea College (KY), and the Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood (CA), are providing a helping hand to members of local communities who need a little assistance getting things moving in the right direction. From health care and nutrition, to tutoring, to adult education classes, these programs give people not only hope, but also the skills to make sure the Changes they undergo, last.

Second, we could ask Congress to pass H.R. 40Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act (Ta’Nehisi Coates made a great argument supporting reparations). This could serve as the catalyst to provide investment in both urban and rural communities where investment in schools, businesses, and public spaces/programs would help revitalize neighborhoods and lives. And third, the government could provide incentives to small and medium size businesses to bring jobs, Good Paying Jobs, to our city centers. This form of economic investment could pay dividends that have far-reaching effects, in terms of stability in housing, raising the tax base for school funding, and providing individuals & families a reason to reengage with the democratic process.

This may sound like a lot, but really, considering the alternative, the status quo, or even deteriorating relations and continued disinvestment in our country—our cities—our communities, it seems like a pretty good idea to make the necessary policy Changes to put us on a path that begins the healing process and thinks long-term about our Nation’s future well-being.

 

 

Rising Sun between the Brooklyn Bridge & the Manhattan Bridge
Rising Sun between the Brooklyn Bridge & the Manhattan Bridge

 

Manhattan Institute put out a Civic Report on New York City’s Poorest Neighborhoods. (2014)

Changes

Come on come on
I see no changes. Wake up in the morning and I ask myself,
“Is life worth living? Should I blast myself?”
I’m tired of bein’ poor and even worse I’m black.
My stomach hurts, so I’m lookin’ for a purse to snatch.
Cops give a damn about a negro? Pull the trigger, kill a nigga, he’s a hero.
Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares? One less hungry mouth on the welfare.
First ship ’em dope and let ’em deal to brothers.
Give ’em guns, step back, and watch ’em kill each other.
“It’s time to fight back”, that’s what Huey said.
2 shots in the dark now Huey’s dead.
I got love for my brother, but we can never go nowhere
unless we share with each other. We gotta start makin’ changes.
Learn to see me as a brother ‘stead of 2 distant strangers.
And that’s how it’s supposed to be.
How can the Devil take a brother if he’s close to me?
I’d love to go back to when we played as kids
but things changed, and that’s the way it is
Come on come on
That’s just the way it is
Things’ll never be the same
That’s just the way it is
aww yeah
I see no changes. All I see is racist faces.
Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races we under.
I wonder what it takes to make this one better place…
let’s erase the wasted.
Take the evil out the people, they’ll be acting right.
‘Cause both black and white are smokin’ crack tonight.
And only time we chill is when we kill each other.
It takes skill to be real, time to heal each other.
And although it seems heaven sent,
we ain’t ready to see a black President, uhh.
It ain’t a secret don’t conceal the fact…
the penitentiary’s packed, and it’s filled with blacks.
But some things will never change.
Try to show another way, but they stayin’ in the dope game.
Now tell me what’s a mother to do?
Bein’ real don’t appeal to the brother in you.
You gotta operate the easy way.
“I made a G today” But you made it in a sleazy way.
Sellin’ crack to the kids. “I gotta get paid,”
Well hey, well that’s the way it is.
We gotta make a change…
It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.
Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live
and let’s change the way we treat each other.
You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do
what we gotta do, to survive.
And still I see no changes. Can’t a brother get a little peace?
There’s war on the streets and the war in the Middle East.
Instead of war on poverty,
they got a war on drugs so the police can bother me.
And I ain’t never did a crime I ain’t have to do.
But now I’m back with the facts givin’ ’em back to you.
Don’t let ’em jack you up, back you up, crack you up and pimp smack you up.
You gotta learn to hold ya own.
They get jealous when they see ya with ya mobile phone.
But tell the cops they can’t touch this.
I don’t trust this, when they try to rush I bust this.
That’s the sound of my tool. You say it ain’t cool, but mama didn’t raise no fool.
And as long as I stay black, I gotta stay strapped and I never get to lay back.
‘Cause I always got to worry ’bout the payback.
Some buck that I roughed up way back… comin’ back after all these years.
Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat. That’s the way it is. uhh
Some things will never change

Tupac – Do For Love; I Ain’t Mad At Cha

Isabel Wilkerson‘s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, sheds light on the lives of African Americans’ journeys out of the Jim Crow South, to the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast. Superb! Pack a lunch, it’s a long read but worth every minute of your time.

Tanner Colby has written a great book about how we (as a society) have come to be in the place we are. Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in AmericaEspecially good for anyone familiar with life in Alabama, Louisiana, K.C. MO & K.C. K., and NYC. But, really, just read it. You’ll Love it!

 

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